Judges have expressed concern that some “unqualified” church leaders are being “duped” by disingenuous asylum seekers who convert to Christianity to avoid deportation.
A series of court rulings have revealed examples of clergy and lay leaders failing to question the motives of would-be converts whose asylum applications they accepted.
The revelations came as Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, accused his successor, the Most Rev. Justin Welby, and other bishops in the House of Lords of “blindness” to the impact of mass migration on “our culture, our infrastructure and our common life”.
Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, he called on bishops to do “much more” to listen to “struggling communities” who feel “alienated and marginalized by unprecedented rates of immigration and change”.
In an extraordinary attack on the current leadership of the Church, Lord Carey, who was archbishop between 1991 and 2002, linked the ongoing row over the conversions of asylum seekers to Archbishop Welby and other bishops’ opposition to the government’s Rwanda plan . “disturbed me by its ferocity and intensity.”
The colleague warned that the Church was failing to provide sufficient guidance to pastors on “how to discern whether these conversions are authentic, long-standing and life-changing.”
Immigration tribunal rulings analyzed by this newspaper show that the Home Office has repeatedly raised questions in court about the extent to which clerics “interrogate” the true intentions of migrants seeking to convert from Islam to Christianity.
Migrants can apply for asylum on the basis of their conversion to a new religion if they face persecution in their home country for their new faith. In many cases, religious preachers agree to support their claims.
In two separate cases uncovered by this newspaper, judges questioned how local church leaders could vouch for the faith of asylum seekers from Iran and Iraq while being unable to communicate properly with them due to a language barrier.
In one case, a pastor claimed to have had an “in-depth” conversation with an Iranian-born migrant whose application he supported, despite the man himself saying the pair had never discussed his faith “one-on-one.”
He said their interactions were limited to “greeting and asking how we are doing… [With] broken English and hand signals.” In the same case, the judge found it ‘very surprising’ that church authorities had allowed the man, in his forties, to be baptized at Wakefield Cathedral just five weeks after arriving in Britain.
The revelations come after the Church of England rejected claims by Suella Braverman and Priti Patel in last week’s Sunday Telegraph that churches routinely supported “fake” asylum claims.
Archbishop Welby accused the Church’s critics of a “mischaracterization” and said that in asylum cases “we simply follow the teaching of the Bible, which is to care for the stranger. It is the job of the government to protect our borders and the courts to adjudicate asylum cases.”
The role of the clergy in supporting asylum claims is being considered by ministers in the aftermath of the chemical attack that injured a mother and two children. Abdul Ezedi, the suspect, was eventually granted asylum after claiming that he had converted from Islam and that his life would be in danger if he returned to Afghanistan.
The Church of England has rejected claims by the Reverend Matthew Firth, who led a parish in the north of England, that it is complicit in a “conveyor belt” of asylum seeker baptisms used by migrants to enter Britain. to stay.
However, several of Mr Firth’s claims about the handling of insincere converts appear to be borne out in the asylum decisions examined by this newspaper – including the tendency of such migrants to display their faith prominently on Facebook, before using these posts in an attempt to support their faith. their asylum applications. In the case of one migrant, whose asylum application was subsequently rejected, a judge said such posts were “completely generic” and “purely to strengthen his claim”.
The Church of England has said that religious ministers’ support for an asylum claim does not amount to “some kind of magic ticket”.
But court decisions analyzed by this newspaper reveal a series of cases since 2018 in which judges have questioned statements by religious or lay church leaders about asylum seekers claiming to be genuine converts to Christianity.
Migrant cannot name a church
In one case, an immigration judge found that a leader of an evangelical church in Wiltshire had been ‘duped’ by an Iranian migrant in his twenties, whose claim that he had converted from Islam to Christianity before moving to Great Britain Britain came, was considered ‘implausible’. .
While the leader, then a pastoral assistant, “gave completely sincere testimony as to his belief in the appellant’s conversion”, the tribunal judge “noted the extent of the unquestionable nature of that belief”. The migrant couldn’t even name the church.
In another case, the pastor of a church in Barnsley wrote letters and appeared at a formal hearing in support of an Iranian-born man in his 40s who claimed to be a converted Christian.
However, First Tier Immigration Tribunal Judge Abigail Holt concluded: “In short, [the vicar’s] Appellant’s assessment appears to be based on the fact that he was a pleasant, friendly and courteous person… However, these factors do not mean that [the vicar’s] assessment of the appellant confirms his claim and I am not convinced that the appellant is a genuine Christian who would risk persecution or worse if returned to Iran.”
The judge added of the vicar: “The thrust of his evidence was that it was part of the Christian ‘duty’ to be open to new recruits, even if not very enthusiastically. I think this unconditional attitude has probably been blinding [the vicar] to consider alternative motives of the appellant. There was no evidence that it ever occurred to him why joining the Church might be an attractive option for the appellant for reasons related to gaining status in Britain, i.e. other than his claims of being genuinely interested are in Christianity. In brief, [the vicar] took the appellant uncritically at ‘face value’.”
In a subsequent decision upholding Judge Holt’s rejection of the man’s asylum application, it was noted that the judge “found it very surprising that the appellant was allowed to be baptized by the church authorities at Wakefield Cathedral on 2 May 2018 because he had recently arrived in Britain. .. approximately five weeks earlier, which raises the question of how well they knew the applicant and whether there was a critical assessment of his motivation and willingness to undergo the baptismal ceremony.”
‘Fear of harm’ claim rejected
In a second case, a judge concluded that a lay leader of a church in Wigan, Greater Manchester, “tried to cover up the language issue” in the case of an asylum seeker whose cause she supported – despite the pastor acknowledging that the migrant’s English was “so Too bad it took weeks to understand why he came to church in the first place,” according to a 2019 decision.
In another case, a judge said a pastor in Hartlepool who “expressed genuine views” that another Iranian-born man was a “genuine Christian convert” knew the man for “only a relatively short period” and “only a relatively short period ” had known. somewhat limited” interaction with him.
The judge upheld a decision by Sajid Javid, the then Home Secretary, to reject the man’s claim of ‘fear of harm’, concluding that he was ‘neither a credible witness nor a consistent witness in relation to his claim to be a true Christian convert. in the United Kingdom”.
A Church of England spokesperson said: ‘Clergy are expected to uphold the law like any other citizen, and therefore the highest standards are expected of them in making true representations of character and dealing fairly with formal legal matters. processes.
“It is clear that we can never know 100 percent, which is why we support the Home Office in their ultimate duty to investigate and decide applications. In the Barnsley case the system clearly worked: the church’s referrals proved inconclusive, the judge made a decision and in this case the application was rejected.”
The Anglican Diocese of Leeds, which is responsible for Wakefield Cathedral, said ministers took potential baptisms “extremely seriously” and knew “they had to show discernment with regard to personal integrity and faithful commitment when bringing people to baptism”.